Photos and Story by Camilla Mayer for The Style Line
The light is starting to fade against the Gamla Stan
skyline in Stockholm. As I walked towards this old section of the city, I navigate through the dozens of commuters on bikes whizzing quickly over the bridge past me. The skyline is a dazzling array of golden yellows, cool beige tones, and warm rust colors. On this late October day, it’s only five o’clock when the sky begins to change, and it’s the indicator that darkness will come quickly. I soak in my new home, and I’m reminded of how old Stockholm is walking through the narrow cobblestone pathways in this section dubbed “Old Town.”
It all started on a solo trip to Stockholm this past February in the dead of winter. Six months ago, a snowstorm had just hit Brooklyn, and I remember most of New York had stayed home from work because of the storm. I, however, was checking my phone continuously in case of a canceled flight. All packed, I surveyed my quiet street in Brooklyn. Everything was pure white with several feet of snow as a trucked my luggage in a lonely trail towards the subway. I was excited for this trip but also dreading being alone for six days in a city I had dreamt about visiting forever.
As a native of Chicago, I grew up visiting my Grandma and extended family on Paulina street in the Swedish Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville. Walking around nearby Clark Street, hints of the Nordic country were everywhere. Whether birthday cakes from the Swedish Bakery, an extended visit to the Swedish American Museum or a photo with the blue Swedish Dala horse on Clark street, little Sweden had a historic home in Chicago dating back to the American Industrial Revolution.
Living in New York for almost ten years and with thirty quickly approaching, I wanted to check off my bucket list of living in Europe. I was tired of New York and the daily grind of battling public transportation, high living costs, and a non-existent savings account.
Click bait articles of the happiest people in the world teased me towards Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden. I was in love with their universal health care, month-long vacations, and progressive values. Sweden sounded like a dream come true and a nice escape for this American girl.
After many months of research and long conversations, I made the hardest decision of my adult life thus far and gave my boss one month’s notice of my departure. For my sister and best friend, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. I had been talking about leaving New York for almost three years; the destination was just always unknown. Final work projects, intense amounts of packing and farewell dinners filled my New York calendar to the brim. Leaving all that you’ve ever known for almost ten years left me emotional and ridden with anxiety for weeks. Sleep was a faraway friend, and I often woke up in the middle of the night questioning everything. Was I really going to do this? Leave my glamorous job, sister, friends, and financial stability for a country I had only stayed a week in? Pretty ballsy.
I took the dive, moved to Stockholm and immediately started the daily task of problem-solving every aspect of life we often take for granted living in the United States. Simple tasks like grocery shopping felt monumental.
After navigating the twenty types of cheeses, dairy options, and roughly trying to exchange Kroner into Dollar, my brain was exploding every time. Swedes do speak English, but their produce is definitely not in English. I had so many questions about everything and Google was my best friend (and translator).
Most Swedes love American culture, and their English flows easily from day to day life. It’s customary for Swedish kids to learn English along with history and math at an early age. Wherever I wander in Sweden, it’s a comfort to know that I can easily attain information using my native tongue. This is a privilege I don’t take lightly. Being a New Yorker was an easy entryway to meeting people. I found that in the same way New Yorkers admire Sweden, Swedes have a deep love affair with New York. Walking down the street, it often feels like I’ve been transported back to the United States. At a glance, a New York Yankees cap here, Patagonia jacket there, and Nikes everywhere.
My biggest dilemma in moving to Europe was my visa. Unlike the U.S. or the UK, you only have three months compared to six months to figure out how to stay. The easiest way is to attain a work visa, and in my mind, this felt very attainable. All those years slaving away in New York City had to amount to something, right?
My skill set is social media and influencer relationships, which turned out to be a high commodity in Stockholm as well. Swedes, however, advanced in other industries are not particularly advanced in social media. With so many global brands like H&M, Spotify, and Acne Studios, there was bound to be a spot for me. Introductions came easily and my days in Stockholm consist mostly meeting people out to a “fika” or in New York terms: dark brewed drip coffee and a delicious carb-filled pastry.
Darkness fully transcends over the old section of Stockholm now, and the streets quickly empty out in a way I never thought was possible. Windows are bright, active and lit by candlelight as locals settle into after work drinks or dinners. The shine of blonde hair and elvish-like chit chatter can be seen and heard as I trudge through the old cobblestones. I feel the hardness of stone in my knees, and this reminds that I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m new to this city still, and sadly no one is waiting for me at the end of my walk. Deep in my solitude here, my European planner is wide open still, in hopes of filling it with new friends, experiences, and memories.